• Lauren Sauer

This week (yes, it's only been a week) has felt longer than any other. Perhaps the last time I was counting minutes this intently was in the eighth grade when I didn't want to be at sleep-away camp. I would lie awake in my sleeping bag, sweating profusely in a cabin in August, rolling my eyes as I remembered it was actually Tuesday, not Wednesday, and the bus home wasn't going to careen through the campsite entrance for another four days. But back then I was without smartphone and was swimming with a tampon in for the first time, experiencing the acute agony of being thirteen in the summer. This is different than that. I'm not outdoors and I don't have braces, and I'm only watching the hours tick by because I'm bored.

Isn't that something? Bored. With more options that humans frankly should have, I manage to be bored. With a cell phone that seems to do just about everything short of turn into an aircraft. In a way it's sweet to know that we humans, ultimately, just want to connect and just want to get fresh air. When push comes to shove and we've exhausted every Netflix title, we just want to go on a walk with our friends. Feeling like a tiger at the zoo must, I'm getting antsy pacing back and forth in my 800 square foot enclosure. So, I took advantage of the 75 degree weather the other day, walked a few miles and collected my thoughts. And now here they are for your reading pleasure:

Thoughts From a Tiger in the Wild (aka Georgetown on a Thursday)

For every person outdoors running right now, how many do you think actually identify as a runner? Like, how many of these people actually are psycho enough to run even when there’s not a health pandemic? Furthermore, do you think they’re annoyed that all these non-runners have decided now would be a good time to start running, and now it’s, like, less special because it’s not just their thing? I think if I was a runner that would annoy me.

I keep waking up at 5 am and then can’t fall back asleep for another 30 minutes to an hour. I wonder what that’s about.

I don’t care how much humans value connection, I thought a stranger was about to start a conversation with me and I almost had a panic attack. Turns out she was just talking on the phone using her AirPods. And while it looks fully insane to talk on the phone via AirPods, it’s less insane than striking up conversation with someone you don’t know in the year 2020.

If all of Netflix's digital titles were to materialize in a physical space, just how big would that be? Like, how many shelves of wall-to-wall DVDs are we talking? When I was a little girl, going to Blockbuster was one of my favorite special treats, and even then I would get overwhelmed by the sheer number of titles to choose from. Now I manage to scroll through Netflix and guffaw at the lack of movies and TV that catch my eye. Which is why I often decide to throw in the towel and just watch Broad City for the eleven-thousandth time. But if I'm remembering correctly, I also often rented the same VHS copy of Thumbelina when I was little, so perhaps not much has changed.

People keep getting closer than six feet to me. Or at least I think. Today is really a case study in just how bad my spatial awareness is. Do you think measuring tapes are one of the items Amazon can’t seem to keep in stock?

Dogs don’t know we’re in the middle of a health crisis, they’re just like, “Hey you’re home more than normal, that’s fun!”

I'm seeing lots of teens just kind of...hanging out in public? Leaning on their cars and shooting the shit standing in a vague semi-circle. But now that I think about it, that’s kind of a touchstone of the teenage experience, because you have no money and can’t get into bars. So I guess for them this is just like a month long weekend, except it’s harder to sneak weed into the house because your parents are always home.

Did you know Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” was written about Dave Coulier? It’s not as satisfying power walking with the song in your headphones knowing it’s about Uncle Joey. But if I have to have my angsty music video fantasies ruined, you do, too. Still a good song though.

I think my cat is starting to get depressed by proxy. He can sense something is up with the world, even though he's only left the house once, and that was to go to the vet when he was a kitten. I would like to think he's happy that I'm home, but he's probably feeling like a tiger at the zoo, too. Ultimately, house cats are just the wimpy small versions of that, but I'm sure the primal instincts are more or less the same.

I wish people could understand how hoarding doesn't help them. If you have 80 rolls of toilet paper and 120 bottles of hand soap, that means your neighbor probably has none. And if that's the case, they're dirty and germy, and you with your throne of household items are still going to get sick because of it. My aunt says this is a perfect example as to why socialism could never work; I just think it's an example of how stupid some people are.

Costco is literally just a grocery store with a cover fee. I've never thought of it that way before, but now I'm realizing that's fully what it is. And if that's the case, they should do some deal where ladies get in free before 9. I think nightlife culture is frankly gross and another place where misogyny thrives, but I'd put on a tight little dress and heels if it meant I could get bulk groceries and a $1 churro without the annual membership charge.

My senior year of high school, my psychology teacher had us all do a project where we psychoanalyzed ourselves and wrote autobiographical case studies. I never spoke up much in that class – and in high school in general. But when it was time to pass back our graded assignments, my teacher handed mine over and said, "You're funny," with an incredulous tone. I politely chuckled, to which she continued, "No, seriously. I had no idea. You're frickin' funny!" I think about that a lot, and feel like for a lot of people, this blog is their version of that psychology project. Y'all never saw it coming, huh?

Update: You can still buy measuring tapes on Amazon. That’s good. We have that going for us, at least.

Well, I guess this tiger's gotten enough fresh air. Back into my enclosure I go. I have a sneaking suspicion this won't be the only time you'll hear from me during this. Much like the runners gotta run, this writer has to write. And keeping my thoughts to myself isn't really my strong suit.

  • Lauren Sauer

The last days between 1999 and 2000 were surely more of a big deal than those between 2019 and 2020. An entirely new millennium is much more impactful than a new decade, right? Well, I didn't have a blog then; I was barely alive. So here's an ode to the 2010s: The weird, wonderful, exhausting, exhilarating, and ultimately noteworthy moments of my past ten years.


Started to get my eyebrows under control as I started to get the hang of high school. Filled my head with concerns about geometry and biology and if I could read the bulk of Of Mice and Men the night before the book report was due.

Took the school bus that dropped me off two blocks from home solely because it was the bus most of my friends rode, expect on days when I walked to my friend Yasmin's house after school, spending pocket change on Starbucks and McDonald's on the way.

Begged my parents to adopt another dog, so our Hollie could have a companion she probably didn't even want. Brought home a 10-year-old Shih Tzu named Rascal who growled every time you touched him but somehow grabbed onto our hearts in that peculiar way that only dogs seem to manage.

For the first time in my little tweenaged life got a boy to notice me and like me back, after almost an entire year of my pining. I'm sure this was reflected in the text messages my parents were being billed for a la carte.

Applied to a rigorous and prestigious writing camp––I can't stress enough how popular and sporty I was in my teens! Attempted to call my mom's cell phone while she was on a cruise ship in the middle of the Mediterranean to gleefully share the news that I had been bumped to the top of the waitlist and got the opportunity to go. I guess 2010 was the year that I discovered writing was my "thing," if you will, and begun burrowing myself into figurative language as if my own words could keep me warm.


Moved into a large single family home that my single family of three humans and two dogs couldn't seem to fill. When it comes to homes or pants, if they're too big, what's the point? Extra furniture and belts can only do so much.

Joined the ensemble cast of the spring musical and wore an ill-fitting powder blue men's polo shirt with clashing argyle knee socks as a military boy in Seussical The Musical.

Saw the last Harry Potter movie in theaters promptly at midnight and cried through the entire thing, despite its flaws and plot holes. Sat wordless and numb in the backseat of a minivan while processing an end to what was at the time the piece of media that had affected me most.

Got an absolutely abysmal grade on my first AP English writing assignment, which I could only interpret as an absolute blow to my self esteem. Because when you're newly sixteen and you've only in the past year discovered there's one thing you like to do and get an F doing that thing, the floor beneath you all but disappears. For what it's worth later managed an A in the class and the highest score possible on the AP exam, but that doesn't really matter. Actually, for my narrative, it very much does. I'm still the same girl deep down, who needs strangers on the internet to know she prevailed and got good grades in her English classes.

Got my provisional driver's license that December, just days shy of Christmas, and began carting myself around in my parents' hand-me-down Nissan sedan the following February. In those first few months drove only to school, work, and the Target near my house.


Got capital-D, all-encompassing, "oh my God why do I feel cemented to my bedsheets?!" Depressed. Read Catcher in the Rye for school and felt, like many mentally not-so-great teens before me, kindred to Holden Caulfield and pledged to lease a bit of my soul to JD Salinger. Annotated pages and highlighted important passages, though the assignment was simply to read the book and write a report on it. Because if there's one thing I didn't master this decade, and probably never will, it's the art of casually liking something.

Owed my mom big time for listening to my laments about friends' betrayals and the stress of applying to college. Stayed home from school for a "mental health day" as much as she would allow. Didn't realize until years later how grateful I was to have her take me seriously.

Went to Chicago on a field trip to attend a national writing tutoring conference, where myself and a friend presented a shoddily-done Powerpoint to a hotel ballroom lined with stackable chairs. Made this small feat the first bullet of my resumé, as I didn't have much else to show for my now seventeen years of life other than "cash register at Justice, the store at the mall you probably remember better as Limited Too."

Stayed up all night on the thirteen hour bus ride home swapping stories and unsolicited advice with a boy in my class I barely knew. Exited the charter doors back in Virginia with my mind made up that I'd developed a new crush. In true teenaged fashion, did the whole awkward song and dance that you do when you have feelings for someone new. Went on a pseudo-date to Target (I'm S U B U R B A N, okay?!) and sat in the parking lot of a 7-11 to watch Christmas lights across the street. Did a full foot-in-mouth on our first (only!) established, sit-down date. Strung poor dude along for truly years every time I was bored and home from college. Didn't feel intense regret and embarrassment until adulthood, but that's normal. Remorse and seventeen don't often go hand-in-hand. But I'm getting ahead of myself.


Got accepted to three of the four colleges I applied to, but remained firm that I did not want to go to my mom's alma mater. Went to the admitted students' open house just for grins and swallowed my pride for the sake of the Shenandoah skyline and bluestone architecture. Got an overpriced JMU hoodie at the bookstore and wore it to school every time I needed a little reminder that I was not long for West Springfield High and the trouble it seemed to cause me.

Nervously quit my job at Justice and began a long stint of unemployment that sat poorly with my parents and has me now wondering how I afforded to keep gas in my car and go to chain restaurants with my friends.

Studied for my AP exams and regularly checked a Facebook group that existed solely for the girls in our grade to ensure no one would be wearing the same dress to prom. Wore a navy blue Ralph Lauren number that my mom had to coax me into even trying on. Oh, to fight with your mother in the formalwear section of Lord & Taylor, meanly hissing under your breath about not even wanting to go to the stupid dance, anyway. Another hindsight adulthood thing is: I'm happy I did go, because ultimately when it comes up in smalltalk I can participate in the chatter about what I wore (that RL dress), who I went with (a friend), and what I did after (got McDonald's fries and went to bed).

Graduated with my class of 500+ wearing a coral lacy sundress from Forever 21 under a navy blue cap and gown. Spent the subsequent summer breaking into the public pool after hours with my friends, sneaking out the back gate and driving down the street with no headlights until I got far enough away from the house. Mom, if you're reading this, I didn't do this that often, and in a way I hope you're proud to discover I wasn't as boring as you maybe thought.

Went to college and marveled at how quickly my life could turn from bleak to buzzing. Became fast friends with girls who lived in my hall and latched on for dear life to my roommate. Busted the stereotype by still being best friends with her today, a token of my college years I value just as much as the degree itself.


Rode the wave of anxiety for months, knowing deep in my gut that I should not have declared an English major before even moving into my dorm. I suspected I didn't want to actually be an English teacher, but couldn't imagine a world where a girl who likes to write gets employed for doing much else.

Suspicions confirmed by Professor Facknitz's "Writing About Literature" course; fifty minutes three times per week spent sweating around a small table hoping to God he wouldn't ask me to analyze James Joyce for deeper meaning. Had an "ah-ha" moment one night lost in thought on the elliptical: I want to create the content, not interpret someone else's! Filled out a form the next day declaring I would now major in School of Media Arts and Design (SMAD for short), and throw in a creative writing minor for flourish. Rounded out freshman year fulfilling gen-ed credits and cried packing up my tiny linoleum shoebox of a room, lamenting that the year seemed to go way too quickly.

Actually kept busy over the summer––what a concept––as a camp counselor, which brought in more money than I had ever made in my life at a whopping $650 every two weeks.

Went back to school in early August and worked as an RA solely for the perk of having a room to myself sophomore year. Sorry, fingers slipped––I meant solely for the ability to impact lives and foster a positive community. That's what I meant. Managed to write as few incident reports as possible, call 911 only a small handful of times, and find a kindred spirit in my then-boss, now-mentor/friend/media critic/regular FaceTime date Zach.

Brought my car with me to school and marveled at just how often I could drive to the Target five minutes away from campus, because I am anything if not predictable.

Died my hair that much coveted Emma Stone shade of purply-red, much to the chagrin of my grandmother, who would constantly lament, "Lauren, it's carrot red!" For the record, I don't know what "carrot red" means, either.


Along with the rest of my family, surprised my grandparents for their joint 80th birthday party, which involved hopping on a plane across the country on the first of the year.

Moved out of the double room I had to myself days after all the other students went home for the summer, and spent that night climbing onto the roof of the dining hall and watching the sunrise from the top of the stadium. Hopped more fences and cheated serious injury more times in a six hour window than ever before in my little nineteen years of life. Worth noting that this was with two or three other former RAs on my staff and not just a weird rebellious streak I was pulling on my own in the middle of the night.

Saw One Direction in concert from the comfort of the absolute nosebleeds, courtesy of $20 Groupon tickets.

Moved into my first apartment, an admittedly pretty awful, rickety four bedroom townhouse situation that is standard for most college students. Threw up on the crappy kitchen floor and even crappier bedroom carpet. Hi, mom.

Started working at the gym on campus as a marketing assistant, a job that would later become very telling in my pursuit of a real career. Once I settled into the role, I found myself explaining many times over the next few years, "I just really want to find a job that feels similar to what I'm doing at UREC," or "If I could do this full-time that'd be ideal!"

Also started working at the newly-erected Ulta that anchored the teeny southern mall just off-campus for a little bit of a discount and extra spending money. This coincided, no surprise, with a period of my life in which I was wearing lots of makeup all the time for no real reason at all.

Did my first honest-to-goodness reading of my own writing for a final grade in my advanced creative nonfiction class. Everyone in class got ten or so minutes of stage time to share something they had written that semester, on a proper stage with a podium and microphone. The local paper even came and did an article on it! Still have a video somewhere in the iCloud that I filmed in my car right after it ended, hands and voice shaking: "I just want to document this so I remember that I feel so loved and so happy."

Rang in the new year in a hotel room my friends had rented out, and quickly scuttled into the parking lot just after midnight when the hotel manager came pounding on the door alongside two police officers. Apparently you can't throw a party for thirty people in 400 square feet owned by Marriot? News to me.


Cut my hair on a whim, participating in the "lob" trend that seemed to be omnipresent in 2016-2018. Militantly kept up with regular haircuts for years, and now look back on photos and think, "Did I need to be doing all that?"

Studied abroad in Ireland for 5 weeks over the summer. Made lifelong friends, got a tattoo on my ankle, and for some reason loved being in a 50-degree rainy climate in the middle of July. Didn't love getting food poisoning on a bus that was careening through the Irish countryside, but didn't love having to come home even more.

Turned 21 ten days after drinking my way through Cork, Doolin, Galway, and Dublin for weeks prior. Was for sure that annoying girl who rang in her big boozy birthday by sighing and saying the gin and tonics in the states "just aren't the same!" Ugh, we hate her.

Started senior year of college. Went out to downtown bars where rail drinks were $3 and nowadays really can't believe I once took that for granted. Also for the record don't really drink or go out much anymore, but I guess these few months were my little party animal phase. When in Rome, drink as the Romans do I guess.

Woke up in a cold sweat that one gross night in November and swore I was just having a bad dream upon Googling final election results. I still remember that next day being eery and grey, almost as if the sun was just as shocked and angry as the popular vote.

Spent Christmas with my grandparents at their home in Rhode Island, which involved a nine hour road trip with my mom and our very neurotic dog, then rung in the new year at a house party I angrily walked home from at two in the morning.


Went to the inaugural Women's March on the National Mall. Cried off and on for hours, from a strong cocktail of passion, inspiration, fear, and anger.

Traveled to Boston for a long weekend trip with my friend Claire, where I stayed in a youth hostel for the first (and maybe only!) time. I can't help it that I'm too high maintenance and want to not bunk with strangers when I'm traveling! Take it up with my parents; they didn't give me siblings. They made me this way.

Had my world rocked in a very real and scary way when my grandfather was admitted to the hospital for a serious brain surgery, and understandably thought of little else for weeks. Visited him over that Easter weekend in lieu of him and my grandmother making the trek to my impending graduation. Still occasionally find a reserve of relief in my chest and say to members of my family, "Can you believe that happened? You really wouldn't know it now, would you?"

Got together with my hallmates and collection of friends from freshman year, sitting around hand-me-down couches and swapping memories of when we were eighteen and new to campus. Marveled at what one another had accomplished in just four years and made peace with the fact that it's okay to not really be close friends anymore.

Donned a purple cap and gown one rainy morning in May and moved out of Harrisonburg for good. Managed to freak myself out for not having a job lined up right away and refused to listen to any adult who knew better when they said I'd be totally fine.

In actuality, only spent three weeks unemployed, but somehow managed to turn myself into a bundle of nerves and stress, constantly camped out in coffee shops applying to any and every job that sounded promising.

Started working at a small startup-esque company that ultimately did teach me a ton. Grew exponentially in my role. Learned how to take constructive feedback. Learned how to navigate different personalities and how to actually use Adobe Photoshop.

Moved out of my parents' house into a little apartment in Alexandria, where I lived in a sunroom and spent way too much on rent because I didn't know any better.

Went to homecoming at now my alma mater and got teary-eyed walking past the same Shenandoah hills and bluestone buildings that got my mother, and now me, good in the first place.

Rung in the new year at one of those overpriced "all you can eat and drink" monstrosities downtown, where I watched a girl throw up on herself at 11 p.m. and had to flag down a bartender for fifteen minutes every time I wanted a teeny tiny mixed drink. I guess you can call that one of those life experiences you do once to say you did and then vow never to do again.


Attended two weddings and a bridal shower in the month of March, taking me to wineries both in sunny Temecula, California and humble, chilly Charlottesville, Virginia.

Went to New York City to see Harry Styles in concert. Saw him live three times in the span of four days because I'm really sorry to tell you, I don't know what "chill" is and I never will!!

Finally crawled to the end of my fifteen-month lease, and moved from that dingy little apartment in Alexandria to my dream two bedroom in Arlington. Obviously with my roommate, because I never quite hit it rich this past decade. Maybe I can afford a two bedroom on my own before 2029. Fell in love with the little nook I now get to call home and walked to Trader Joe's for my groceries.

Fell very, very in love with both Queen and indoor cycling classes, two interests absolutely none of us saw coming.

Started to think maybe it's time to start looking for other jobs. Applied to a ton. Interviewed with a few. Got rejected by most.

Rang in the new year on the couch with one of my best friends. Struggled to keep my eyes open past midnight.


Saw my queen Kacey Musgraves in concert for the fifth (?) time, this time as a headliner. Got teary thinking about all the other shows I had been to in the last decade where she was just the opening act.

Hit 100 rides at my favorite spin studio, followed by my one year spin-iversary a few months later.

Quit my job with no safety net. Felt my heartbeat in my throat as I nervously put in my notice, and was given the silent treatment for days after. In an office of fewer than ten people, that felt good! Realized that my choice to go was one of the bravest things I've ever done, probably ever will do, and that you can't make people happy for you or force them to be in your corner.

Adopted the most perfect kitten, and named him Freddie Purrcury. Remember the Queen obsession from the year before and my inability to just casually like things?

Finally, after months of interviewing and trying not to get my hopes up, started a part-time job at SiriusXM radio, where I feel scared and challenged every day. But in that good, exhilarating way, where you lie in bed at night and swear you ache from growing pains because you're learning and doing so much.

Picked up another part-time job at Anthropologie, expecting it only to be a vehicle with which to help pay my rent. Accidentally fell into a colorful, multi-faceted, uplifting cohort of women who tell interesting stories and have good, abundant hearts with closets to match.

Cried. A lot. Fell apart a lot. Took long, aimless walks through the little neighborhood I have come to love, kicking slush and leaves. Wondered when it would stop feeling like I'm careening downhill at 100 miles per hour, sometimes on long phone calls to my mom, and other times just to myself in secret.

Had the type of year that had me being far too holy with my horoscope and singing along to musical theater power ballads with far too much gung-ho. The type of year that threatened to knock the absolute wind out of me, as evidenced by the fact that it took a full week to get this decade-in-review blog post written.

But as cheesy as it sounds, the type of year that affirmed the old proverb "fall down seven times, stand up eight." The type of year that every young person needs at one point or another, because it's "character building." The type of year that made me realize I am resilient and I am smart and I would much rather work all the time in pursuit of a life I love than coast through a life I'm bored by. I learned that being honest and brave can sometimes be lonely, but your people––your real, earnest, supportive people; not your "yes men" or your conditional confidantes––will always be there to keep you company.

And that's my decade. If you thought those unbearable, never-ending Instagram stories were bad, I may have just topped those by 20,000 words or so. So, uhh, in conclusion...if you made it this far, Happy New Year! One week in isn't too late to say that, right?

  • Lauren Sauer

If you're looking for a real review of Taylor Swift's latest album, Lover, might I suggest a few articles penned by journalists who are able to be objective:


The New York Times

Paste (This one's even a bad review for those who want one!)

Rolling Stone


Thought I would give you those links right up top, on the off chance you actually thought this was going to be a real review. No, this is just more of a space for me to gush about how I think this is one of Taylor's best albums yet. If you're not into blind adoration, or you're a card carrying member of the Blind Hatred of Taylor Swift Club, tune in next time when I write about something you'll maybe be more into. Although unsure when that "next time" will be, because it's already been about a week since this album's been out, and it's still all I want to talk about.

Overall, this album is lyrically gorgeous. Lush imagery grows like vines and wildflowers in the verses, shocking intimate details are revealed in the choruses. Taylor has always been a writer first and foremost, and Lover really showcases her talent for figurative language. As a dork who went to writing camp in high school, I especially appreciate her lyrics and have always worn them proudly as some of my favorites of all time. But let's not waste time talking about this album on a macro-level, when really all I want to do is dig into each song individually and burrow my head in their soft spots.

1) "I Forgot That You Existed"

I made the intentional decision to not listen to this album when it was released on streaming platforms at midnight on the 23rd. Call it crotchety or curmudgeonly, but I miss the days of driving to Target after school and getting my hands on the physical CD, excitedly tearing off the plastic and hugging the jewel case close to my chest. So that's what I did. Granted, I'm 24 now and don't have to wait for the dismissal bell to ring before I can go snatch my copy, so I was at Target a few minutes after 8 a.m., when they first opened for the day. Once I picked out which deluxe version I wanted (because there are four, if you didn't know), I was practically skipping to my parked car in anticipation. And, let me tell you, while "I Forgot That You Existed" isn't one of my favorites on the album, it's exactly the type of song I wanted to hear when the CD started playing through my speakers.

Jaunty, pleasing piano chords and finger snaps serve as the melodic backbone of this intro track, a decidedly brighter aesthetic than her previous reputation. The lyrics, while simple, perfectly describe the freeing feeling of letting someone out of your system ("It isn't love, it isn't hate, it's just indifference"). The overall tone of this song fits with some of Taylor's most recent songs and "I don't care" attitude, securing those past feelings with a new, Lover-approved, pastel pink bow. Almost as if to say "Okay, that's out of my system, now onto the good stuff: The love, the fairytales, and all those other Swiftian motifs I do best."

2) "Cruel Summer"

This. Is. My. Favorite. On the whole album, but also probably one of my top picks of her entire discography. I can't say that with certainty because I'm clearly still so enamored with this new album, but once the dust settles I have a feeling this one will still be a standout. And that's simply because it has all the ingredients of some of my other favorites: Devastatingly good lyrics, a notable bridge, and production by Jack Antonoff. I've maybe gone into this before, but Jack has one of my favorite ears in contemporary music, and I would trust him with my playlists, and perhaps my life.

"Cruel Summer" appears to be a common favorite, and I would imagine it's for the reasons above. Taylor has a special skill for writing songs that are intimate and specific, with pop power sounds that invite everyone in. When it comes to songs like these, I shockingly find myself at a loss for words. I don't know how to describe what it is I love so much about this song, so maybe I'll just let Taylor do it for me. Through my initial listen-throughs of this album, I wrote down the lyrics that jumped out at me in a notebook. Most of what's written comes from this song, in messy handwriting that suggests I was too excited to get to the next word, throwing legibility out the window. Most of these lyrics offer internal rhyme schemes and phraseology that are sonically pleasing to sing in the car, but don't rely on tired radio tropes.

"Devils roll the dice, angels roll their eyes/What doesn't kill me makes me want you more"

"We say we'll just screw it up/In these trying times we're not trying/So cut the headlights, summer's a knife/I'm always waiting for you just to cut to the bone"

"I'm drunk in the back of the car/And I cried like a baby coming home from the bar/Said I'm fine, but it wasn't true/I don't want to keep secrets just to keep you/And I snuck in through the garden gate/Every night that summer just to seal my fate/And I screamed for whatever it's worth/I love you, ain't that the worst thing you ever heard?"

With a song title famously attributed to both Bananarama and Ace of Base, Taylor bellies up to the bar with the daunting task of setting this track apart. She succeeds, leaving listeners with the melancholy feeling of Labor Day after a summer that threatened to go on forever.

3) "Lover"

Taylor hasn't actually had a title track since 2012's Red album, with this one being entirely different than those of album's past. The easy, acoustic strumming that backs this song left me in tears the first time I heard it. Who's surprised? (No one.)

This song is self-aware in a way I've never heard from Taylor before. While her songs have always been wise beyond their years, this one makes it clear that she's done a ton of growing up since she penned "Red" or "Speak Now" in her early twenties and late teens. This song–this album–was written by a woman who is both nearing thirty and has come to the realization that true love doesn't have to be dramatic. Your person shouldn't leave you sobbing on the kitchen floor, but rather should help you string Christmas lights on the mantel.

The most poignant, telling detail of this song rests in the line "Ladies and gentlemen, will you please stand/With every guitar string scar on my hand/I take this magnetic force of a man to my lover." This lyrics works double-time to describe both the physical imperfection of bodily scars and the emotional labor of penning heartbreak songs for so many years. I get a heavy feeling in my chest thinking about how this woman singing about ultimate commitment was once the girl writing about the emotional abuse she endured in years past.

4) "The Man"

We didn't necessarily need Taylor Swift, with her hundreds of millions of dollars, to tell us about gender inequality, but I'm glad that she did. Because even in a position of privilege, it is true that women are treated differently. They're calculating and mean to match a man's strategic and diplomatic.

I'm not necessarily losing my mind over this song as I am with some of the other tracks, but I do love a good girl power anthem. It's also laden with options for good Instagram captions, my personal favorite being "I'd be a fearless leader, I'd be an alpha type/When everyone believes ya, what's that like?"

5) "The Archer"

Taylor famously reserves track five on her albums for her most vulnerable and sad songs, and this one is no exception. But instead of being a forlorn love song, "The Archer" is a self-reflective ballad about taking a good look at yourself in the mirror and realizing maybe you don't need to be so hard on yourself.

The majority of the song is backed by only an extended synth line and bass drum, letting Taylor's voice take center stage. This lets lyrics like "I wake in the night, I pace like a ghost/The room is on fire, invisible smoke/And all of my heroes die all alone/Help me hold on to you" really hit you in the gut. Nestled between "The Man" and "I Think He Knows," this song fits the bill for a classic Taylor Swift track five song, and is a bit of musical brevity between more highly-produced offerings.

6) "I Think He Knows"

Again with the finger snapping! Taylor, you know how to do a catchy song. In hindsight, it's almost laughable that you wasted time as a country artist for so long, because pop was clearly always destined to be your wheelhouse.

"I Think He Knows" plays with cadence in a way that mirrors the initial rush of attraction, that eventually settles into a rhythm that is self-assured. There's a noted difference in the way she delivers the punchy pre-chorus ("He got that boyish look that I like in a man/I am an architect I'm drawing up the plans") and the romantic bridge ("Lyrical smile, indigo eyes, hand on my thigh, we could follow the sparks; I'll drive.")

There's something about this song that's slightly tongue-in-cheek and definitely sexually charged. But when writing an ode to one's Lover as a whole, it's probably worth noting that not only are they your intellectual equal, but you think they're hot, too. This song is doing the heavy lifting on part of the latter.

7) "Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince"

When the tracklist was released one week ahead of its impact date, "Miss Americana" was one I was immediately intrigued by. I had no clue what to expect from this one, but I know I certainly wasn't anticipating political allegory to take shape in the middle of a Taylor Swift album.

While "You Need To Calm Down" is considered the most politically charged song on the album (and we'll get to that), this one snuck up on all of us and hit us over the head with the disenchanted American Dream. It's been noted as a generation-defining protest song that calls out the lunacy of clinging to Americana imagery as a way to tuck ourselves in at night and claim that this country is doing juuust fine.

Using middle America high school as the staging ground for this metaphor, Taylor calls out the shiny fallacy of prom dresses and scoreboards, smartly employing peppy cheerleader sound effects ("O-KAY!") to drive her point home. This certain disdain for routine reminds me of the Kacey Musgraves's breakout hit, "Merry Go 'Round," with a similar narrator who is floating above her hometown and wondering what's gone wrong.

Taylor famously remained silent during the 2016 election, and since has been quoted to say she has regrets. She would have been a vocal advocate for Hillary Clinton, and vows to do everything she can in 2020. With a song like this, I believe her. It's slowly crept up as a favorite of mine, though it does alarmingly resemble reputation's dark track "So It Goes." I think what works for me personally is the second verse ("American stories burning before me/I'm feeling helpless, the damsels are depressed/Boys will boys, then where are the wise men?/Darling I'm scared"), and the clever use of "GO! FIGHT! WIN!" in the bridge.

8) "Paper Rings"

Quite a shift from the dark previous track, "Paper Rings" has the grandiose nature of musical theater and a bright bass line that unfortunately distracts me from the intimate details she's written. You almost miss the adorable detail "Now I've read all of the books beside your bed" when it's drowned out by tambourine.

Though I've memorized all the words to this song and would gladly listen to it before many others, it's far from my favorite. The capital-P Peppy Taylor Swift songs seldom are. This song reminds me of 2012's "Stay Stay Stay," a track I would never go out of my way to listen to. That said, the saving grace of this song is trademark songwriting and production from Antonoff. He once said in a podcast that his secret to a good song is verses that are detailed and specific, paired with a chorus that is universal and relatable. This is a technique I like in a lot of songs, Taylor's specifically, and I recognize it doing the work here.

9) "Cornelia Street"

We're already halfway through this album review, and I've failed to mention that this entire thing is about Taylor's boyfriend Joe Alwyn. You knew that though, right? Unless you're my mom, who asks me "Now who's this song about?" every time I manage to listen to Taylor with her in the car.

There's a line in her song "Gorgeous" (also about Alwyn) that goes "You make me so happy it turns back to sad," and that sentiment is basically what "Cornelia Street" is about. It's like she took that bridge, put it under a microscope, and slowed down the tempo.

I'm having a hard time describing this song as anything other than "dreamy." It's a tale of longing that makes me feel like I'm in a movie trailer when I'm listening to it. I hope you know what I mean by that, because I truly don't think I can articulate it in any other way. What aids in this feeling, I think, is the classic trope of New York City playing its own distinct character in the love story. This is a narrative thread that runs through the entire album, with its pinnacle right here at the album's midpoint.

This song also wins songwriting points from me for specific narrative language that makes me very pleasantly surprised that Taylor and Joe have been able to steal away and have a normal, private relationship much of the time. It's rare that one of the most famous women on the planet should be able to write in earnest "Windows flung wide open, autumn air, jacket 'round my shoulders is yours/We bless the rains on Cornelia Street, memorize the creaks in the floor."

10) "Death By A Thousand Cuts"

We've arrived at another one of my ultimate favorites on the album. While I think "Cruel Summer" takes the top prize, this one is my silver medal winner. "Death By A Thousand Cuts" was written in response to the Netflix original film Someone Great, starring both Gina Rodriguez and my tears in prominent roles.

Like the movie that inspired it, DBATC tells the story of a love that had to end, even though the feelings linger. Though I've never experienced it myself, I can only imagine how awful that is. I'm just guessing here, but I would think "death by a thousand cuts" isn't even that melodramatic of a hook.

From a figurative language perspective, the thing that really grabbed me about the lyrics of this song is the line "I dress to kill my time," even though it's delivered quickly and is probably skipped over by casual fans. I just love the wordplay here! I've never really seen anyone do this, where they tie together two idioms (in this case "dress to kill" and "kill my time") to create an entirely new meaning. I'm exposing myself for the dork I really am, but I mean! That's so cool! How does Taylor's brain think of this stuff?! Anyway, this song is masterful from start to finish.

11) "London Boy"

More critical reviews of this album have pointed at this song as a sore spot, and a "tourist trap" of a tune. And granted, it is going to be featured prominently in the captions of every white girl traveling to England next summer, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes you have to take that picture in the red phone booth and sing along to the kitschy lyric "dahling, I fancy you!"

Like "Cornelia Street," this song is surprising to me in the way that it depicts Taylor and Joe's life as...almost normal? I'm very pleasantly thrown that she's able to either experience watching rugby in the pub with his friends, or at least write about it convincingly enough.

12) "Soon You'll Get Better"

While writing this, I've been playing each song to remind myself what I like and dislike about each. With "Soon You'll Get Better," though, I'm not going to do that, so I don't start crying in this very crowded Starbucks.

One of the only songs on the album not about Joe, it's about Taylor's mom Andrea, and her battle with cancer. Its lyrics are universal enough that you can relate it to anyone in your life who has ever been seriously sick, and that's what gets me good! I'm tearing up just thinking about my grandpa's brain surgery and my entire family's blind optimism! Everything's fine! (Seriously, on that note: Everything is fine, in terms of that situation.)

The one criticism I have of this song is that I wish the Dixie Chicks were featured more prominently, but the lyric "I'll paint the kitchen neon, I'll brighten up the sky/I know I'll never get it, there's not a day that I won't try" makes up for it.

13) "False God"

The back half of this album snuck up on me. I didn't initially love these tracks, but a few days in they started to work their Swiftian magic on me, "False God" in particular.

Lover as a whole combines the dark tone of reputation with the pop-synth sounds of 1989 and the lyrical clarity of Speak Now, and this song is perhaps the most prominent melting pot of these elements. Plus a crooning saxophone in the background just for fun!

Since abandoning country and its voting block, Taylor has given up her need to appeal to a PG-rated audience. Can you believe in 2019 we're getting a borderline atheist anthem that alludes to oral sex ("Religion's in your lips...the altar is my hips")? What a time to be alive.

14) "You Need To Calm Down"

YNTCD is...trying its best. I appreciate the effort. I especially appreciate that it was co-promoted with the Equality Act. I appreciate that her heart is in the right place. But I skip this song almost every time it comes around. I only ever really find myself singing this song when my kitten is being too hyper, when I'll scoop him up off the floor and hold him up to my face and sing "You need to calm down, you're being too loud" in a singsong voice while he wiggles around under my fingers.

15) "Afterglow"

Like "False God," it took me a few days to appreciate this song for all that it is. And what it is is an answer to the tired argument "Has Taylor Swift ever thought to herself 'Hey maybe I'm the problem?'"

It is a real mark of maturity when you can acknowledge when you've wronged a loved one and apologize in earnest. None of that "I'm sorry if I hurt you" nonsense. In her 29th trip around the sun, Taylor has really mastered this and put it in song, with prominent drums juxtaposing her airy, ethereal vocals.

16) "ME!"

I don't militantly hate this song as much as everyone else seems to. But I don't absolutely love it. I do like it a lot more than "You Need To Calm Down," and appreciate that she chose to retract the cringy "Hey kids! Spelling is FUN!"

Brendan Urie is a great co-pilot, with a unique voice and perspective I've enjoyed hearing more of in the past few years. It'd be cool if he and Taylor wanted to collaborate again in the future on a song with a bit more substance. But, I can't stress this enough, I don't hate this song. In fact, I listened to it on repeat when it first came out. But now that I have an entire album to cycle through, I skip it a fair amount.

17) "It's Nice To Have A Friend"

Have you ever been to a museum and seen a painting that you don't totally love, but you can look at and say "I acknowledge that this is very good, but it's just not for me"? That's how I feel about INTHAF.

It's notably different than any other Taylor Swift song I've ever heard. In fact, I tried pairing each song on this album with another from her past discography that sounded most similar, and I totally came up short when I got to this one.

What instrument is in the background of this song? It's a plucked string instrument of some sort I think, if not a computer-generated noise. I can't figure this song out, which is probably why it's not one of my favorites. It's haunting and bizarre and somehow also sweet and poignant? And includes a trumpet that harkens back to summer camp mornings. What's going on here?

18) "Daylight"

If "I Forgot That You Existed" was the perfect way to open this album, "Daylight" is the perfect way to close it. It's sensitive, sweeping, and charts immense growth. I've never thought of Taylor Swift as "hard," but it's clear that over time she has been hardened by her failed attempts at love. And seeing her round the corner has been an absolute delight.

In the lyric booklet for her album Red (2012), she writes: "My experiences in love have taught me difficult lessons, especially my experiences with crazy love. The ones that went from zero to a hundred miles per hour and hit a wall and exploded. And it was awful. And ridiculous. And desperate. And thrilling. And when the dust settled, it was something I'd never take back...I see all of these moments in bright, burning red...real love shines golden like starlight...Maybe I’ll write a whole album about that kind of love if I ever find it."

To release an album just seven years later that closes with the lyric "I once believed love would be burning red, but it's golden like daylight" hits me where it hurts. It's reasons like these that I haven't figuratively let go of Taylor's hand since I was eleven years old.

And that, friends, is my very clearly subjective review of Lover. A love letter to the album that is a love letter to love itself. Lots of love going on here. But with me, and with Taylor, did you expect anything less?


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© 2018 by Lauren M. Sauer